At least 15 Nigerian news organisations on Wednesday joined forces to fight misinformation before elections next year, in a collaborative first as the country’s main political parties trade accusations of fabrication and exaggeration.
The CrossCheck Nigeria project aims to get normally competing newsrooms to work together to investigate and disprove erroneous claims, particularly on social media.
Completed investigations will appear on a central platform only when at least five partners have approved the work, in a move designed to improve public understanding and trust.
Nigerians go to the polls on February 16 next year to elect a new president and parliament, while gubernatorial and state assembly elections take place two weeks later.
President Muhammadu Buhari is seeking a second, four-year term but is facing a strong challenge from former vice-president Atiku Abubakar.
The race is predicted to be close given dissatisfaction with Buhari and his record on improving national security and the economy, plus tackling corruption.
His ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has been accused of plagiarising its “Next Level” slogan and design for the re-election campaign.
Abubakar’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has been criticised for using photos of dead African Union troops for Nigerian soldiers killed in a recent Boko Haram attack.
CrossCheck Nigeria involves about 50 journalists from local print, broadcast and online media, plus AFP, supported by academic partners at the University of Lagos.
The public will be able to provide tips via WhatsApp.
The Abuja-based International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR) will coordinate the project, which follows similar initiatives in Brazil and France.
ICIR executive director Dayo Aiyetan said Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp had become “avenues for politicians to spread misinformation, rumour, falsehood and fake news”.
“The media bears responsibility to verify information being churned out on social media to ensure that they are true,” he added in a statement.
First Draft, a British non-profit which aims to tackle misinformation around the world, is providing the technology and research expertise.
Jenni Sargent, managing director at First Draft, said the Nigeria project and others like it were designed to help the public make informed political choices.
“This transparency is essential to maintaining trust and credibility in this age of misinformation,” she added.